April 26, 2016 § 57 Comments
One time I was whining to friend about using computer technology to compose music. “So bogus!” I declaimed.
“STFU,” he advised, being a composer. “If Mozart had had it, he would have used it. Musicians always use the best thing available. The piano was a revolutionary instrument and Mozart owned it.”
“Maybe,” I said, “but if he’d used a program to compose I can guarantee you one thing.”
“His music would have sucked.”
The first time I saw an ebike up close was a few years ago. Greg S-J had a new Specialized ebike that, with a tweak and a twist of Old No. 72, had been programmed to go 30 mph. “Great,” I had said. “Next we’ll have Smedley Sagbottom on the bike path doing 30 as he learns about things like the grippyness of sand in a screaming turn.”
As old and change-resistant and bitter and grumpy people are wont to do, I predicted the following:
- People will begin racing them.
- They will become ubiquitous.
- It will be the end of civilization.
Two out of three isn’t bad.
When I was in Germany last summer dragging my son uphill along the Rhine from Cologne to Koblenz, we passed hundreds of ebikes going the other direction. We never passed a single ebike going in the same direction.
The ebikes were all pedaled by old German people who were getting exercise or running errands or casually whipping by the world’s fittest and most delusional 52-year-old profamateur SoCal bike racer from New Jersey who grew up in Galveston and Houston. And that last part made them sooooo happy. The first hundred times a creaky-kneed Opa showed me a wrinkly pair of heels it made me grind my teeth so much that I lost most of my enamel. But actually I was just following the Five Stages of Grieving for Getting Owned by an Ebike.
- Murderous rage.
- Wild, uncontrollable fury.
So then back at home the ebike thing continued to grow, and continues. Some people complain because of e-doping, where pro cyclists put tiny motors in their bike to add a few watts when the going gets tough, cf. Fabian Cheatsalotta in the Tour of Flanders. Others complain because it ruins the purity of the sport, where results depend on training, diet, natural ability, computerized watt meters, a race director with a radio who can instruct you exactly how hard to pedal and for how long, and a doctor who can advise you how to beat the drug tests.
In fact, some people care so much about ebikes that they have left cush jobs in the cycling industry, as if any job is cush, and as if cycling is an industry instead of a mafia for dumb people.
But back at the Mozart Ranch, though, where you pretty much have to admit that people will grab whatever technology gives them a leg up on everyone else (Charles Darwin wrote a book about it once), the world is shrugging. Motors let fat sprunters climb with the goats, and they let skinny goats sprunt with the big boys. Just kidding. If you are a tiny climber you will never beat a sprunter, even if he’s on a Big Wheel and you’re on a Ducati. That’s because sprunters win mainly on balls not watts. However, I’ve heard that Specialized is coming out with a pair of eBallz that will take care of that problem, too, and also make a cool ornament for your trailer hitch.
No, the world doesn’t care that we’ve moved on from human power to e-power in bicycles. The slow will get really fast, the homebound will get out and take the lane, and the nature of racing will shift from drugs-radios-computers to drugs-radios-computers-and-motors. Ah, excuse me. IT ALREADY HAS.
And don’t cry on my shoulder. There is actually a world for people who like obsolete shit that performs badly and only looks good because it’s old–it’s called Penny Farthing Racing and Classic Car Collecting. Help yourself to some nostalgia, and don’t forget to wear a helmet.
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April 25, 2016 § 8 Comments
I carry around my over-stuffed suitcase of non-courage, zippers broken and shit spilling out, handles frayed, two of the casters broken and the other two wobbling frenetically in opposite directions, only to find that it’s too big to be checked, or that there’s an extra cargo charge of $250, or that the best memories inside have fractured in transit into microtiny carbon splinters, or that the TSA has stolen my prized participant ribbons, or that upon reaching my destination the bag has been shipped to Malaysia on a Dutch flight that can no longer be found but is certainly somewhere over, or more likely in, the Indian Ocean.
The suitcase of non-courage is heavy, too heavy for a mortal to lug, and is so mixed with history and life and regret and misremembrance of things past that I wonder why I continue to drag it around from ride to ride, from race to race, from overwrought faux Grand Fondue to overwrought Faux Fondue.
This is precisely where I found myself on Saturday, another wasted weekend spent in search of that which by definition you will never find, and it was exactly at the nadir of the whole experience that the chaff fell away and the kernel lay, revealed.
I’d been relegated to the sidelines, which was fine, because after completing the first four BWR’s I was done abusing myself for the sake of someone else. The exhaustion and wreckage visited upon man and equipment alike by the Belgian Waffle Ride was nowhere more evidenced than in its effect on the ride’s founder, Michael Marckx, who had finally cobbled together the Dual Divinity: A ride so hard that he was afraid to do it, and a companion easier, shorter, flatter ride that he could actually win. It made me happy to see my friend, after so many years of teeth-gnashing defeats and failures, finally declare himself victor of his own event.
But more than the happiness of seeing Michael hoist himself on the shoulders of the myriad volunteers, friends, and admirers who had come together to make the BWR happen, I saw something else, something that penetrated, at least for a few moments, the hardened shell of skepticism that coats what remains of my battered and tattered old suitcase.
It was the incredible happiness of my friends and comrades at Big Orange cycling who launched into the event with full abandon and reaped the confidence and success that comes from lining up and finishing such a monstrously difficult ride. For the first time in my five years of struggle with this terrible day in North County San Diego, I stood at the finish line cleaned and scrubbed and utterly un-tired and un-hungry, watching in awe as my friends pedaled squares past the big banner, their faces as drained and beaten as any historic shower-stall photo from Paris-Roubaix.
Covered in dirt, many of them sported torn-apart clothing, shattered equipment, bloody limbs, and a kind of disbelief that they had managed to ever get back. One friend collapsed on a table, unable to even remove his helmet. I’ve never seen anyone collapse on a tiny round bar table, standing.
But as each rider revived, some after spending twelve hours battling a course that was simply designed to punish, and as they ate, then drank, then plunged their faces madly into the mounds of ice cream-covered-waffles, smiles began to play and the stories began to roll out.
Stories of fellow riders who simply dismounted and quit. Riders who were carted off in an ambulance. Equipment failures of every variety. Mental failures, physical collapse, “the wall” of endurance, pushing beyond, far beyond, anything they’d done before, and conquering this beast of a ride with sheer desire to complete a ride that the ride’s founder himself didn’t dare to attempt.
Although my suitcase of skepticism no longer has room for flowery praise of the “resilience of the human spirit,” the grandpa in me appears to have room for nothing else. These friends have accomplished something–what they’ve accomplished is unique for each of them, and its significance will really only reveal itself over a rather long period of time. Thanks for letting me sit on the sidelines and cheer you on.
Big O Riders (If I’ve left off your name or last name please add it in a comment!)
Stella de la Vega
Big O Cheerleaders
Big O Saints: These two guys spent the day in Dan’s Jeep covering the route and fixing bikes, providing medical aid, getting injured riders back to their hotels, and serving as roving rangers to protect and serve.
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April 24, 2016 § 22 Comments
April 23, 2016 § 15 Comments
Does anyone besides me remember the Tour de Louisiana from 1984? There was a 5-mile TT, a 60-mile RR, and a crit in Baton Rouge. It rained like a bastard the last day and we all slid out over and over in the crit, picked up our bikes, and kept on riding. I did it with teammates Jimbo Martin and Kevin Callaway the Good.
What I remember more than the racing and the nasty hotel with the wet spots on the sheets was this dude in the road race. He was about twenty, long black hair, and stuffed chock-full of rage. From the moment the road race started until we dropped him with about twenty miles to go he did nothing but yell, shove, threaten, and curse.
“Get out of my way, you dick!” and “Move over you asshole!” and “Watch what the fuck you’re doing, cuntface!” and more, many more, each oath emphasized with a threat about how if you didn’t like it then get off your fucking bike right there and he would whip your fucking ass. “Get off your bike now !” he was heard shrieking when the final acceleration came that dropped him for good.
This was the first time I’d heard so many threats of physical violence in a bike race, as if the violence of falling off your bicycle and breaking your head wasn’t enough, but it sure wasn’t the last. Over the years I’ve seen so many angry, underwear-clad Little Lord Fauntleroys get into raging whup-ass-talking-contests that it hardly even gets my attention anymore.
Of course the best is when the pixie-armed combatants are old fellows, promising to rain death and destruction with their mighty fists on the object of their contumely. Leaky prostate slap fighting is high comedy of the highest sort.
Still, a few weeks ago I heard some youngsters threatening to murder one another with their fists so I thought I would repeat some words of wisdom for those riders out there, decrepit and sprightly alike, who think that because the are Sprint Beasts or Climbing Machines or TT Assassins that they are tough guys.
- Bicyclists are not tough guys, especially when they are wearing colorful underwear to highlight their shaved legs.
- Tough guys make their way in the world with their fists, not with heart rate monitors and glucose replacement drinks.
- Cage fighters, bare-knuckled boxers, knife fighters, and people who kill other equally armed people in hand-to-hand combat are tough guys, especially when they finish the job with a bayonet. Everyone else is not a tough guy.
- Cycling is a tough sport but that doesn’t make you a tough guy (see exhaustive list above), in the same way that using a hi-tech cell phone doesn’t make you a hi-tech person.
- Cycling isn’t nearly as tough as marathoning, RAAM-ing, free climbing, or ultra-off road running. But those people aren’t tough guys either.
- Even if you get off your bike and “settle it right fucking now, like men” you are still not a tough guy. You are wearing cleats on the bottom of dancing shoes that are often painted bright red or hi-viz yellow. This means you are as tough as Fred Astaire, only not nearly so because he could carry a woman over his head and danced professionally until he was almost 90, whereas you can’t even help your wife with the trunk-full of groceries and the last time you had to dance at a wedding you crushed her big toe so badly that she walked with a limp for a month.
- The toughest guy in the peloton wouldn’t last a half-second in a fight with anyone who fights for a living or even as a serious hobby. You would get the shit beaten out of you like this guy did, minus the cheering crowd and the backflips.
- Even if you go to the mat, beating up another praying mantis in a skinsuit doesn’t make you a tough guy, it makes you a bug-squasher.
- Look at your arms. Now shut up.
- If you like to settle arguments with fisticuffs, why are you bicycling in your undies? Has no one explained to you that the winner is the one who rides the fastest?
- Nowadays everyone has a video camera, and you’re about to become a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons. END
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April 20, 2016 § 34 Comments
It’s illegal to bicycle while drunk in California. You might think it’s a slap on the wrist but as a misdemeanor it will show up as a criminal conviction on your record. Ouch. It also makes you subject to the provisions of CVC 13202.5, which relates to suspension of your driving license.
There are lots of great reasons not to cycle while drunk, and most of those reasons are because although immensely fun and the source of hilarious stories and the occasional Darwin Award, drunkenness rarely ends well. Still, the enhancement of CWFU to the general experience of riding is without parallel, at least until you get run over and killed.
The first time I ever CWFU I was fourteen or so. It was in 8th Grade. There was a guy in my homeroom class named Greg Choban, who was about six feet tall, which meant that in relative terms he was, like, twelve feet tall, and who had failed 8th Grade and now had to repeat it. Greg was a loner who always wore a big cowboy hat before and after school. He was quiet and standoffish, and no one ever fucked with him because he was so big, and now that he had failed 8th Grade, he was older, too, further making us all afraid of him.
His locker was next to mine and we’d occasionally talk, super briefly. He had a baritone voice and raging beard stubble and towered over me, especially when he put that cowboy hat on. One day, out of the blue, as we were collecting our books to go home, he said, “Hey, man, you doing anything after school?”
“No,” I said.
“Why don’t you come over and check out my treehouse?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Okay.” Mostly I was afraid to say “No.” Treehouses, everyone knew, were for little kids, a few planks nailed to the side of a tree, some plywood in between the branches, and, like, that had stopped being fun in elementary school. The thought of going to play in a treehouse with Wilt Chamberlain was weird, to put it mildly.
We rode our bikes over to his house. His Dad was home, a very old guy, older than old, so ancient he might have even been fifty, sitting in the living room watching TV, which was weird because in 1976 or 1977 there was nothing on TV at three in the afternoon. I’d never met anyone whose father was unemployed, and all the drunks in my family didn’t start getting lubed up until 5:00 or 6:00 PM.
“Hey, John,” said Greg.
I froze. I’d never heard someone call his dad by his first name. The ancient fellow nodded and sipped some more of his Schlitz. I still remember how immaculate the living room was.
We went out the back door. “Where’s your mom?” I asked.
“Oh,” I said.
In the backyard stood a massive oak tree. Indeed, it had wooden steps nailed to its trunk, but there looked like a zillion of them and they went way, way up. Far above my head I could see the bottom of the treehouse, which looked like a small house. So much for plywood planks. Greg disappeared into the foliage.
I followed, soon swallowed by the boughs and leaves. You had to enter through a trap door in the bottom, which I did. When my head went through the floor I looked around, mesmerized. The treehouse had carpet and windows and its walls had incredible black light posters. On the floor were large velour red and purple pillows.
Greg was already seated, his back leaned against the wall, smiling. Even though it was in the high 90’s outside and humid as only the Houston swamp can be, it was cool and pleasant up in the tree, where a light breeze played through the open windows. His treehouse was a hundred times cooler than my bedroom. “Like it?” he said.
“Wow, this is amazing.”
“Settle in,” he said, and put a record on the turntable. It took a few seconds for me to realize that his treehouse had electricity. He showed me the album cover. “Like this?” It was Foghat.
I nodded. “Cool.” I noticed that there was a string suspended from the ceiling, and on the end of the string was a small plastic skull, about the size of a Hackysack, which was still years away from coming to the backwater of Houston. Seated where I was on the velour cushions, the plastic skull was about eye level. As the treehouse gently creaked from the occasional breeze that swayed the giant oak limbs, the skull moved like a pendulum ever so slightly.
Greg pulled out his water pipe. The bowl was massive, and he filled it. The acrid smell of burning leaves filled the tiny space and we took turns, each pull on the pipe causing the water to jump and gurgle and roar. After a long time it was dark outside, pitch fucking black.The only light was the fire from the bowl, and eventually that went out too, and we were in total blackness.
“Kind of dark up here,” Greg said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Better turn on the lights then,” he said, and flipped a switch. In the corners of the ceiling were four small black lights, and when they came on the psychedelic effect of the Hendrix poster, the Jefferson Airplane poster, the Robin Trower poster, and the Zeppelin poster was overwhelming, profoundly stoned as I already was. It took what seemed like hours for my eyes to go over the intricacies of each poster, getting lost in the curlicues and the hair and the guitar strings.
“Hey, man,” Greg said.
“Check this out.” He leaned forward to the dangling skull and grabbed it, pulling it back toward him. Then he let go and it came flying towards my face. He had measured the string so that the skull would get within an inch or so of your head before swinging back, but I didn’t know that.
All I knew was that I was being attacked by a flying skull, and as I violently jerked back my head cracked against the wall of the treehouse. Greg erupted in laughter, then he convulsed, then he fell over. “Oh, man,” he said, “that was the best one ever.”
My eyes were pinned to the swinging skull, stoned-terrified, praying that it would just stop swinging and not devour my face. Robin Trower was singing this, I think, from (what else?) Victims of the Fury.
I’m not sure how, but I stumbled down the ladder in the dark. The last thing I heard Greg say was, “Hey, man, it’s cool, it’s cool!”
I hurried through his house where his dad was still seated in front of the television, a pile of empty cans at his feet. My bike was leaning against the bushes. I jumped on it and rode crazily, drunkenly home, and I never went back. I still think about that lonely giant up there in that treehouse with the swinging skull.
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April 19, 2016 § 17 Comments
Pierre Fauntleroy de Brinvilliers, head analyst for the Departemente du Dopage Mechanique at the UCI, announced a breakthrough today that will allow the world’s governing body for cycling to effectively combat the use of hidden mechanical devices in the pro peloton.
“We have expended many euros in the fight against dopage mechanique, employing only the best experts to assist in discovery of the technique the most effective for prevention of the dopage mechanique,” explained de Brinvilliers at a press conference earlier today.
According to de Brinvilliers, his team has discovered “a variety incroyable” of secret devices that allow riders to go faster. “Eet is beyond l’imagination, how zees professionelles are cheating the sport and the fans, and l’investigation suggests many are complicit, yes, with an emphasis especiale on les manufacturers, who eet appears are working hands in their gloves to promote l’cheating avec these cheating cheateurs who cheat.”
Using many of the same staff members who have led the UCI’s successful fight against traditional doping in cycling, the UCI has now mounted an equally vigorous assault on the scourge of mechanical doping. In addition to recruiting Tom Danielson, David Millar, and other respected ex-professionals to assist with public outreach, de Brinvilliers has assembled “le foremost equipage d’experts technicale in the entire world” to “detect and destroy” all “vestiges of dopage mechanique.”
At the press conference, the UCI’s Technical Division revealed the first results of their unannounced inspections. “We have gathered proof that virtually 100% of the peloton is now using dopage mechanique; initial inspections revealed widespread cheating, even on training rides,” according to Chief Inspector of Mechanical Doping, Jacques Clouseau, who presented photos of an array of doping devices discovered by his undercover squad.
“This first item,” said Clouseau, “is of undetermined function but is cleverly hidden in the rear of the bicycle. Our laboratory is performing tests to understand how it adds power and speed, allowing cyclists to cheat.”
“This next item,” he added, “is perhaps more diabolical. Preliminary tests show that rather than adding speed, it appears to reduce it, which is counterintuitive, however, our working hypothesis is that by reducing speed illegally at certain points, perhaps, such as bends in the road, it provides secret and illegal methods of allowing the rider to accelerate later, which he would not be able to do if, for example, he smashed into the curb and broke his head.”
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